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New commercial district will get a development plan

Commissioner Tom Dyer, left, talked to Mayor Henry Balensifer.
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, March 7, 2019

Land owners in a new commercial area along Highway 101 will have to wait a few months before new projects can be approved, city leaders decided Tuesday night.

The City Commission voted unanimously to pay for development of a master plan for the 19-acre Spur 104 project. It’s known as Spur 104 because the area sits between Alternate Highway 101 (a spur off State Highway 104) and U.S. 101.

It was to be the commission’s final approval on the project, but the master plan will require yet another look.

However, the zone for the entire area was changed to commercial mixed-use Tuesday, which had been sought by property owners as it will allow development of small businesses, apartment complexes and other multi-family uses. The area previously was zoned for low-density residential and, in one portion, general industrial.

All city commissioners said they are concerned about traffic in the area, since much of the project’s traffic would feed into the city’s busiest intersection, Ensign Lane at Highway 101.

Mayor Henry Balensifer, the sole vote against the zone change at the Feb. 12 meeting, voted in favor Tuesday after other commissioners voiced a desire for a plan to address the traffic and other aspects, such as a cohesive plan for building design, lighting, sidewalks and landscaping.

Lisa Lamping, who owns property in the area, reminded commissioners that she and others paid for water and sewer improvements that benefited the entire town.

“It’s time these folks realized their investments,” Lamping said. City commissioners “have the ability to control how crazy that area gets. … It’s not a blank check. Have you ever known a government to be a blank check? They’re always in the driver’s seat.”

Ken Yuill, who serves on the city’s Planning Commission and owns about 20 percent of the project area, said Wednesday that he was somewhat perplexed by the action.

“I understand where the commission is on this issue,” he said. “I just hope that the property owners in Spur 104 will not just be trading one restriction for another.”

The commercial mixed-use zone is a great transition between the heavy commercial uses on Ensign and residential neighborhoods farther north and west, Yuill said.

“From the property owners’ perspective, this is another delay before they get a return on their investment,” said Kevin Cronin, Warrenton’s Community Development director. “But we’re trying to create a new, sustainable neighborhood that will fit seamlessly with what’s developed across the street. We’re looking at this from a long-term perspective instead of a short-term gain.”

Since the initial approval on Feb. 12, several commissioners said they’d been approached by concerned residents or had given more thought to the zone change.

“I’m a big property rights person,” Commissioner Tom Dyer said. “Then again, we have a big traffic issue. … I want the to be able to develop. It’s terrible, but we have to have some plan to deal with the traffic.”

Some of the city’s codes and policies have holes in them and that’s how Wendy’s got approved without an adequate traffic plan, Mayor Henry Balensifer said.

“We have an opportunity … to get this one right,” he said. “It’s our duty to take a look to make sure it’s done right.”

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